The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) have published a report into Heathrow Airport’s Operational Freedoms Trial. The trial, overseen by the CAA, tested whether additional operational flexibility – in the form of tactical use of enhanced arrival and departure flow rates in limited circumstances – would benefit Heathrow’s resilience to disruption and facilitate recovery. The report provides separate and independent analysis on the way the trial was run and on Heathrow Airport’s conclusions.
The hypothesis being tested by the trial, as proposed by the South-East Airports Taskforce, was that granting additional operational freedoms at Heathrow could potentially deliver:
- significant benefits for passengers by improving the resilience and reliability of the airport, and
- environmental benefits, with fewer unscheduled night flights, lower emissions and less stacking.
The data from the trial was found to be inconclusive.
Any operational benefits of operational freedoms were found to be offset by some redistribution of aircraft noise among local communities, and preliminary work suggests some detrimental impact. Communities below the westerly approach paths had their respite period interrupted by aircraft arriving on the runway usually used for departures, while others were found to be affected by vectoring off the established departure routes.
Developing earlier work by HAL, the CAA sought to estimate the monetary value of the costs and benefits of the measures trialled:
- The CAA estimates that operational benefit from the operational freedoms trialled in Phase 2 was likely to lie somewhere between -£7.7 million and +£10.6 million a year, with a mean estimate of around +£1.8 million. This reflects the ‘substantial uncertainties’ found around the calculations.
Heathrow Airport Limited’s engagement programme was felt to be ‘largely successful in publicising the trial and bringing together technical experts to discuss data issues’. However, it was reportd to be ‘less obvious that much progress was made in improving its relationship with the wider community’.
The report concludes that ‘before taking a decision on any more permanent application of the freedoms, the Government has undertaken to hold a public consultation. The CAA has set out a number of ‘insights’ built up during the trial and recommends that the Government consults stakeholders on these insights as well as the overall value of the freedoms to Heathrow Airport’.